Nearly two years since 53-year-old Gary Phillips was shot and killed in Conway, the last of three suspects has been sentenced to prison.
Vennessa Ann Lyons, 25, was sentenced to 15 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections after entering a negotiated plea deal in Faulkner County Circuit Court on Thursday.
Lyons was initially charged with capital murder and two counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor. Prosecutors ultimately lowered the capital murder charge previously filed against Lyons to manslaughter, a Class C felony. In a hearing before Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson Jr. on Thursday, Lyons entered a no-contest plea to the allegations against her. While a no-contest plea is not technically a guilty plea, it carries the same fundamental consequences as a guilty plea.
A breakdown of Lyons' sentence shows she was ordered to serve 10 years in prison for manslaughter, which was set to run consecutively with the punishment she received for her other two charges. Lyons was also ordered to serve five-year sentences for each child endangerment count. However, the five-year sentences are set to run concurrently and also carry a three-year suspension, meaning Lyons is required to serve a total of 12 years in prison.
Keenan Beacham, 23, and Johnny Reed Jr., 33, each pleaded guilty to Phillips' shooting death in January. Both received 30-year sentences.
Online records show Phillips was dropped off at the Conway Regional Medical Center Emergency Room around 2:40 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving in 2016 after he was shot in a robbery incident. He later died from injuries sustained during the incident.
Authorities later learned Lyons drove Beacham to meet up with Phillips and Reed, aka "Little Johnny," on the day in question.
Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews said before the court Thursday morning that while Lyons did not personally harm Phillips, she knew she was transporting Beacham for the purpose of committing a crime.
"This defendant agreed to give Keenan Beacham a ride to hit a lick the night before," Crews said after Lyons entered her plea.
Beacham arranged to meet Phillips at what was formerly The Draft Ultimate Sports Grill on Dave Ward Drive to sell him $500 worth of K2, which is an illegal synthetic drug used as an alternative to marijuana.
"During the course of the aggravated robbery, there was a struggle for the gun and Beacham shot the victim," Crews said. "The victim later died from the gunshot wound."
Tears streamed down Lyons' face as she stepped down from the stand entered no contest to the allegations against her and looked out into the crowd to see two of her supporters and those who supported the Phillips' family.
Online records show the two endangering the welfare of a minor charges against Lyons stem from her having her two minor children with her as she drove Beacham to "hit a lick."
Phillips' family members and friends say they are grateful for the work prosecutors put into seeking justice on his behalf.
Though those close to him wish Lyons, Beacham and Reed would have received harsher sentences, they are glad to find closure and that local prosecutors fought for justice, Tina Bass, Phillips' long-time bet friend, told the Log Cabin Democrat.
"We would have preferred them to all receive a life sentence, but we feel that Carol Crews did an excellent job prosecuting these [three] individuals," Bass said.
Pauline Phillips, the victim's mother, said she feels sorry for each of the defendants' parents. However, she was affected differently from these parents as they are each able to visit their children and her child is now dead.
"Pauline ... feels sorry for the parents of the three, but she also knows that they can still see their loved ones when she will never see her son again," Bass said on Pauline's behalf. "The loss of Gary has been extremely hard on his family and friends and anyone who knew Gary knew his family was what was important to him above anything else."
Gary's family and friends initially had concerns justice would not be sought on his behalf. However, following Thursday's hearing, those close to him thanked Crews for prosecuting this case and seeking convictions against each of the three that played a role in Gary's death.
"It truly is a very sad story. Gary was a wonderful man, [and] this family was what was always most important to him," Bass said. "[W]hen this happened, we did not believe these individuals would be prosecuted due to the fact that Gary had a criminal record and we voiced this opinion to Carol Crews. [S]he told us it did not matter to her what kind of past Gary Phillips had [and] that she would prosecute these three individuals to the fullest extent of the law, and that's exactly what she did. We are more than satisfied with the job that she did and we believe Faulkner County has the best prosecuting attorney that it's ever had in Carol Crews."